Tighter security urged after imam's death

Ethnic Uygur women grab a riot policemen as they protest in Urumqi in China's far west Xinjiang province on July 7, 2009.

The killing of an imam from China's largest mosque in Kashgar, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, has shocked Islamic religious leaders around the region and prompted calls on Friday for tighter security at mosques.

Three people allegedly attacked and killed Juma Tayier after he performed a routine prayer at sunrise in Id Kah, the biggest and most influential mosque in Xinjiang, at 6:58 am on Wednesday. Two suspects were shot dead and one was arrested, local police said.

More than 107 religious leaders around Xinjiang gathered in the capital, Urumqi, on Friday to condemn the violent attack and pray for Juma. The 74-year-old was the deputy president of the China Islamic Association and well respected by its followers. In a letter of condolence, the association said Muslims were not responsible for the slaying.

Abudulkadeer Shawut, a 48-year-old imam of Id Kah, said he witnessed the attack.

"Juma was a kind man who never stopped learning. His knowledge of Islam and the Holy Book of Quran was extremely rich, and his passing is a loss for China," he said in tears.

During the 1960s, Juma studied Islam under the light of stove fires, said Abudulkadeer, who had been working with Juma for nine years and knew the religious leader since childhood.

Juma was an instructor to many students like Abudulkadeer, who said he is furious over the death of his beloved teacher.

"Many non-Muslims have also offered condolences and said Juma was nice to everyone, old or young, Muslims or not," he said.

"I still vividly remember how he once told me not to pursue any attackers if he were ever murdered and to leave the judgment to Allah," said Abudulkadeer, who added that Juma received many threats from religious extremists but never condemned their violent activities.

About 10 days before he was murdered, he had a long chat with Yusup Ahmet, another religious leader in Kashgar.

"He told me to let my followers see religious extremism clearly. Those people kill the innocent and know little about Islam. He asked me to firmly object to them," Yusup said.

The death of Juma has raised security concerns among religious leaders in Xinjiang, said Yao Dexiang, an imam of Beifang Mosque in Urumqi.

"We are more or less worried about our personal safety. That's why I decided to tighten security checks at the gate and recruit guards for a 24-hour patrol," the 57-year-old said.

On May 12, 1996, another religious leader from Id Kah, Aronghan Haji, was brutally attacked. Three people ambushed the 76-year-old imam and his son after they left their house for their morning prayer at the mosque. Aronghan was stabbed 21 times in the head, back and legs. He and his son were severely injured but survived.